Congress just passed an economic package designed to inoculate the American economy from the devastating impacts of the coronavirus. At the same time, medical experts are working around the clock to develop treatments to help people recover from the virus as well as vaccines to prevent it from infecting people in the future.
There is some concern that once the current emergency has passed the coronavirus could make a comeback each year like the flu itself. Developing a vaccine therefore will likely be a key part of preventing the future spread of this virus.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, now famous for his role in the daily White House COVID-19 briefings, has been the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Dr. Fauci has overseen research during his tenure to prevent infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, Ebola, Zika, and now the Coronavirus. He recently emphasized how critical safety is when developing new medicines noting:
“The issue of safety is something I want to make sure the American public understands…Does the vaccine make you worse? You can get a good feel for that in animal [testing].”
Dr. Fauci makes the important point — science, medical ethics and human decency require animal testing for safety so that in our attempt to help, we don’t accidentally make things worse.
But there are voices that oppose Dr. Fauci. They oppose sound science. They oppose medical ethics. And they oppose basic human decency. One such group, the poorly named “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” (PETA), oppose any and all animal testing and have tried to shut down testing and testing facilities.
PETA has mounted a pressure campaign to get airlines to not transport medical research animals. Unfortunately that means they are standing in the way of ethical and legally required research that will stop the coronavirus (and other diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease) from killing those we love.
PETA’s president and co-founder, Ingrid Newkirk, admitted: “Even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS [or cancer or other horrible diseases], we’d be against it.” PETA’s supporters have filed comments with the Department of Transportation hoping to shut down any medical research with animals by blocking their transportation. One representative comment said: “Stop experimenting on animals. Experiment on your children and mothers instead.” Then the commenter called those who reject the idea of mothers and children being used in medical testing “a bunch of barbarians.” Let that sink in for a moment. These people are unhinged extremists and their political agenda is dangerous!
Rather than stand up to these radicals some U.S. airlines, like United, have willingly accepted their demands hoping to avoid social media attacks on their brand. They now refuse to assist American research companies – the very companies we now are relying on to develop a cure for COVID-19 – in transporting badly needed research animals.
This comes despite PETA’s own horrible track record on animals. For example, in Virginia, PETA activists were charged with criminal animal abuse. It turns out that animals that were intended for adoptions were abused and then killed in 95.3% of cases— for an entire decade! Simply put, PETA’s moral compass is broken. Whether you’re talking about human lives or animal lives, PETA cannot be trusted.
Now, America needs reliable, ethical medical research more than ever before. We need to ensure that we have the desperately needed medical treatments to cure those suffering with coronavirus, and in the near future safe, effective vaccines to provide immunity. PETA stands in the way and hopes to prevent this important progress. And the airlines that have caved to PETA’s pressure campaigns unwittingly harm America and put us all at greater risk.
Given that Americans have just provided billions in financial relief to the airlines, it isn’t too much to ask that the airlines help those doctors and scientists working to find cures by not caving in to PETA’s pressure campaigns. And for the record, the airlines aren’t asked to deliver medical animals for free. Medical research facilities pay top dollar and the airlines can collect hundreds of millions of dollars transporting medical animals to research facilities. So, not only could airlines make some additional money at a challenging time, but they could help America find the cures that we desperately need.
America’s best research facilities are racing to find cures, vaccines, and treatments to combat the Coronavirus. But if researchers cannot test these cures — in a supervised and ethical way — tens of thousands of people could die. And long after the coronavirus is gone, the need to find other cures will persist.
Therefore, we must stand up to the extremists at PETA. And we must demand that airlines stop caving to PETA’s pressure campaigns. Americans have helped the airlines — and now it is their turn to show that they want to help America by facilitating the transportation of medical research animals.
Since the election of Donald John Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America on November 8, 2016, the political culture in the country has gone from mildly insane to absolutely idiotic. Before his election, the constitutional principle that the majority of the electors legitimizes the choice of the citizenry was never seriously challenged. Yet, his opponent’s followers, which included the overwhelming majority of the grossly overrated academia, the self-serving media, the Democrat-installed and ideologically blinded bureaucracy and judiciary, have had a different interpretation of the constitution. In their boundless arrogance they decided that their fellow citizens were politically and intellectually not mature enough to bring about the promised “fundamental transformation of society”, promised by their idol, former President Barack Hussein Obama. Infatuated also by the mirage of political correctness, identity politics, and the “glass ceiling”, they concluded that only a revolutionary minority could lead and bring about the desired Obamaesque political, social, economic, and cultural revolution. What they clearly overlooked was the not so negligible fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s disagreeable personality, her past activities and campaign themes were way outside the constraints of the majority’s political and moral beliefs and, more importantly, ran against almost all the cherished traditions of the people.
To add insult to the already existing injurious situation, the midterm elections of 2018, have cemented a broken political system in Washington, D.C., and beyond. The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosy, aided by the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have behaved as though they were the majority within the federal government. Moreover, supported by the ubiquitously and fiercely biased media on behalf of the Democrat Party, the President’s and the Senate Majority Leader’s utterances and statements have been systematically misstated, misinterpreted, taken out of context, and even altered, in order to serve the opposition’s nefarious political objectives. A case in point is the titles of lead articles in the Washington Post’s March 23, 2020 edition, in which the authors praised the warlike attitude of European governments in light of shortages of ventilators, beds and other essential medical equipment to fight the coronavirus, while condemned the President for his alleged “ lagging response” to desperate demands for assistance by state, municipal, and city leaders across the nation.
Meanwhile, because they could not directly attack the electoral college enshrined in the constitution, they embarked on inventing perhaps the most absurd lie of American political history, the so-called “Russian interference in the American elections on behalf of the Trump campaign.” Having been aided by the written and electronic media that for many decades have been constitutionally incapable of grasping the fundamental difference between strict adherence to the facts and the capricious presentation of purely subjective, irresponsible, and even maliciously disseminated falsehoods, the overwhelming majority of media personalities have turned into despicable liars par excellence. Having realized that their ideas are not winnable, these ruthless political operatives and extremist propagandists have come to the conclusion that the only way for them to regain their lost political powers enjoyed under the eight years of the Obama administration is to overthrow the legitimately elected President and his administration by outrageously false narratives, defamation of characters, and blatantly illegal or pseudo-legal manipulations. In order to round up this vicious circle of anti-American conspirators, these two groups enlisted the politically corrupt bureaucrats of the government, in particular the leaders of the various intelligence agencies, the upper echelons of the Department of Justice, and its investigative arm the FBI.
The resulting crimes committed by these groups and connected individuals then led to the totally groundless Mueller investigation, the multitude of laughable House proceedings, and finally to the pathetic impeachment trial in the Senate. What has been remarkable in all these political charades that in the name of maliciously invented human rights, worn off Marxist social justice slogans, self-serving and inverted racial discrimination grievances, misguided notions of multiculturalism, disrespectful anti-religiosity, and savage anti-Americanism, they have attempted to convince the majority of Americans that society shall not save all the praiseworthy characteristics that made their country great, but that they must at all cost to annihilate greatness itself. This compendium of destructive rants against the United States of America, its history, and its constitutional principles, has been packaged in the poisonous wrapping of senseless irreverence.
The charge for this kind of irreverence was led from its inception by none other than President Barack Hussein Obama, the most incompetent, yet the most overrated pseuedo-politician in the annals of American history. Having talked about American exceptionalism often and as usual from both sides of his mouth, he has only succeeded to unsettle both himself and everybody else. As a result, his inherent intellectual confusion culminated in total chaos in the minds of his clueless adherents. Out of this intellectual confusion was born the notion of the Obamaesque Democrats that finality does not exist in society, and that permanent chaos is like Trotsky’s permanent revolution, assuredly beneficial to humanity. Again, what they have clearly overlooked is that the United States of America and the rest of the world foremost needed stability. The era of experimenting with dogmas, ideologies, and extremist intellectual ideas was over. While the history of the 20th century was littered with the failures of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Arab Socialism, African Socialism, Chinese Maoism, etc., the United States of America’s Constitution-and-Bible-based political, legal, and spiritual realms have survived without major interruptions or upheavals.
Thus, the reason President Donald John Trump beat Hillary Rodham Clinton decisively on November 8, 2016, is simple. The former understood better what motivates the American people than the latter. Moreover, the President understood the rest of the world better than his defeated opponent. Therefore, the President has embarked on a whale of a job, namely, to restore and preserve the proven foundations of the Republic, specifically American democracy. In order to accomplish these objectives, the President has spoken truth to the extremist minority. His fighting spirit on behalf of the country has attempted to recreate a feeling of confidence in the institutions of government across the land.
Presently, under the guise of initially blaming the outbreak of the coronavirus on the President, even calling it the “Trump Virus”, and since then vehemently criticizing almost his every decision, the Democrat opposition is hell bent to repeat the outrageous abuse of the rule of law of the last three years, in the hope that they can ride the coronavirus horses of apocalypse to absolute power on November 3, 2020. As recently as last weekend, the Speaker of the House again raised the specter of impeachment against the President for failing to prepare for the pandemic, saying “while the president fiddles, people are dying.” In the same vein, perhaps the most stupid television personality among all the blooming idiots in the American media, NBC’s own Chuck Todd asked Joe Biden whether he believes that the President “has blood on his hands.” This scurrilous and destructive opposition, which is a minority, remains utterly stupefied intellectually by the discredited ultra revolutionary socialist and 19th century syndicalist nonsense. Yet, if it would be successful, it will only accomplish one objective: the total destruction of the Republic, democracy, and the rule of law.
Thus, in today’s health emergency situation the most important task of every government should be to preserve a prudent balance between well-defined legislation enacted by Congress and the strict implementation of the laws by the executive branch. This requirement is important because in the last five decades Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Courts have not performed well in preserving this delicate balance. Particularly, under the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama legislation often suffered from vagueness. Glaring examples of recent congressional sloppiness are the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Massachusetts Senator Elisabeth Warren inspired Consumer Protection Act. In both cases, Congress’s intent was to fundamentally reform major segments of the American economy. In reality, Congress has created significant loopholes in both the meaning of definitions and the interpretation of key provisions. The resulting legal uncertainties have often contributed to bureaucratic overreach and abuses of the Executive Branch’s discretionary powers as well as the inviolability of the principle of the rule of law.
Giving universal value to the rule of law is the responsibility of the judiciary. Decisions handed down by the courts affect individuals in the present, but also will have a more enduring impact on the life of future generations. Thus, judges must be ideologically independent, politically impartial, and therefore not concerned with the politics of the present. For these reasons, judicial activism can be as threatening to the rule of law as the broad discretionary powers granted by the legislature for the executive.
Regrettably, in the present political climate, everybody believes that his or her ideas have the blessings of the future and for this reason rejects out of hand any contradictory arguments. And when these arguments have no or merely miniscule chance to be adapted by the majority, their adherents will try to utilize the powers of the news media and unelected law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as the politically and ideologically biased members of the judiciary. In this political tower of Babel the future of the American Republic, democracy, and the rule of law becomes less predictable.
The moral decline and the resulting ideologically misguided politicization of the nation’s political realm is best illustrated by the Democrats’ insistence on pushing their so-called politically correct agenda during the debate about the stimulus package. Spurned by Majority Whip James Clyburn, third in line within the House Democrat leadership, who opined that the Coronavirus crisis provides the Democrats with “…a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision,” the Speaker of the House deemed it appropriate to held up the stimulus package already agreed upon by both parties in the Senate. In this manner, realizing that their outlandish ideas have no chance to be approved by the majority of the voters in the upcoming elections, Nancy Pelosi wanted to blackmail the President and the Republican Party into accepting her and her Party’s takeover of corporate America. Termed by the Heritage Foundation as a “veritable pork barrel for programs that would force corporations receiving government aid to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives that have nothing to do with combating COVID-19,” Pelosi’s alternative stimulus bill pushed social policies that are outrightly destructive to democracy and the free market economy. This is clearly malicious politics.
Conversely, the guarantee of good politics resides in the characters of the policymakers too. Attempting to promote a dictatorial version of Socialism is tantamount to placing an already discredited political agenda, namely government takeover of the national economy with the goal of establishing a classless society, ahead of the well-being of the American people, is by definition against the national interests. In the same token, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s advocacy of Communism in the guise of “Social Democracy” is equally bad, because of its irrationality and its practices of concluding bad compromises. His revolutionary fantasies amount to an idiotic hoax. What his intellectually blinded followers do not understand is that Senator Bernie Sanders’s call for “revolution” means the violent overthrow of the political, legal, economic, and social order of the Republic. In politics, one can traffic in contradictory ideas, but cannot play with contradictory emotions. In essence, the Democrats have declared war against the unity of the nation, the cohesion of the family, and the Judeo-Christian religion, the three enduring pillars of the American Republic.
It looks more and more like the President clearly understands what is transpiring in the United States of America. His opponents appear to dig in deeper and deeper in their destructive tactics. To provide practical solutions to challenges in general and to the present pandemic crisis in particular are what the overwhelming majority of the people want. Telling Americans how to think and how to live, when they mostly disagree with the Democrats’ prescribed impractical cures, is not conducive of national unity and individual happiness.
History, in its dealings with great nations, has in many instances played havoc with their destinies exactly when they have been at the apex of their powers. However, what has distinguished a great nation from a mediocre or a bad one has been its superior ability to manage crises. Ultimately, the character of a nation and the qualities of its leaders is defined by the manner they triumph over a crisis situation.
Now, the origin of the Coronavirus pandemic is not the primary matter. This question can be researched and analyzed later by the experts. What is presently important, however, is the fact that the entire world is in a biological warfare situation. As in the aftermath of every war in the past, the world has had to adjust to the changes brought about by those extraordinary events. In this respect, two fundamental questions must be answered: Will the solution or solutions contain the lessons learned during the crisis? What kind of changes will happen in the future in the various societies as a result of the crisis?
Clearly, the world is in a turmoil. The member states of the European Union are on the verge of deep recessions and possibly a ubiquitous depression. Politically, the disunity between the western and the eastern parts of the Union is threatening the very survival of the organization. Instead of having shrunk, the economic and cultural differences between these two poles have been growing exponentially.
Russia has historically been the sick nation of Europe. With the exception of its military might, Russia is a political, financial, and economic basket case. President Vladimir Putin is a gambler. His obsession with reintegrating Belorussia and the Ukraine into Russia, his incompetent handling of his country’s economy, and his adventurism across the globe, do not bod well for the future stability of his dictatorship, and the general well-being of Russia itself.
Contrary to all the optimistic predictions, the People’s Republic of China has been in a steady decline politically, economically, and financially since 2012. The rigid dictatorship that President Xi Jingpin has cobbled together with blood and extreme coercion has also been detrimental to China’s continual progress. Under his limitless rule, his country will regress toward the state of stagnation and even the deterioration of the Mao era. Adding insult to injury, China’s over-extension internationally, will only accelerate its ongoing domestic and global decline.
Japan’s economy, once the envy of the world has been stagnating since the end of the 1980s. With its demographic challenges, it will never regain its status as an economic powerhouse. Politically, Japan cannot stand up to the Chinese challenge without the help of other Asian states and the United States of America.
India is growing, but so does its population. Multi- ethnic and multi-religious, it will face enormous problems and challenges to its tenuous democracy in the future. Its economic progress has been slow. The current global crisis will only make growth more difficult.
The greater Middle East is a powder keg. It is only a question of time before the entire region will explode in a protracted and extremely violent combination of civil wars and wars among all the Arab nations. In Iran, the Mullahcracy will collapse and the ensuing chaos will break up the country. Africa will also fall back to tribalism, civil wars, and ubiquitous decline.
The overall picture does not look better in Central and South America. Bloody upheavals, senseless revolutions, self-serving dictatorships will destroy progress in most countries. Experimentation with Marxist, pseudo-Marxist, Chinese, and even local revolutionary models will follow. The result will be enduring chaos and extreme poverty.
The restrictions that have been introduced in the United States of America and in many other countries across the world to combat the spread of the coronavirus have negatively affected their economies. As the number of coronavirus cases here in America surpassed 160,000 as of Monday – the dilemma facing policymakers has already been raised by a Wall Street Journal editorial on March 19, 2020, concerning the safeguarding of public health versus the shutdown’s effects on the health of the economy. This dilemma of the “cure is worse than the disease,” and the President’s musing about it, has again awoke the worst political instincts of his opponents. Pointing triumphantly at the President’s statement, in which he said that “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” while omitting the second part that added the following caveat: “At the end the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go,” they have declared that the President would prefer to kill Americans rather than let the economy further deteriorate.
To bolster their claim of questionable accuracy, they have quoted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the CDC, who said that it might take several more weeks until people can start going about their lives in a more normal fashion. In reality, the President has already extended the CDC guidelines until the end of April.
Politicizing a life and death challenge for each individual as well as for the society at large is clearly counterproductive to support national unity and well-intentioned cooperation in a global crisis situation. In the same vein, the major national television stations, with the exception of the Fox Network, have threatened to stop broadcasting the President’s and the Coronavirus Task Force’s daily briefing because of its alleged inaccuracies and even outright lies. As a result, instead of a direct broadcasting of the President’s and the Task Force members’ statements, the viewers might be confronted with the interpretations of the extremely biased and mostly incompetent commentators about the briefings. That much about the mainstream media’s commitment to free speech and democracy.
A more cynical interpretation might point to the latest poll numbers, according to which the President’s approval rating shot up to 60%, exactly as a result of his daily communication with the nation and his competent handling of the coronavirus crisis. Complaints from the anti-Trump media about “completely ruling the news cycle” by the President and thus eclipsing Joe Biden are abound. Thus, it appears that for the anti-Trump crowd, defeating the President in November is more important than fulfilling their responsibilities of providing the public with up to date and objective information. While the President has demonstrated leadership, his opponents have managed to reveal to the nation their small-minded and contemptuous disposition.
No doubt that this crisis created by the coronavirus is both political and economic. The historic stimulus package officially named the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES” Act, will inject in the American economy a staggering $2.2 trillion to support businesses, public institutions, and individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 880-page legislation is not perfect. It suffers from vagueness and is replete with the provisions of the usual “pork barrel” politics. Yet, for the first time from the beginning of the crisis, it is the product of a broad bipartisan consensus. Its expanded unemployment benefits will surely help even those who are not employed full time, such as gig workers, contract workers, and freelancers. The Act also includes an additional $600 per week on top of the already existing state benefits to support the jobless to survive the crisis. These benefits are time-limited and will run out after four months.
Small businesses are helped with $350 billion, up to $10 million per individual business. In addition, a separate $10 billion in emergency small business grants of up to $10,000 is also set aside by the Small Business Administration.
Larger businesses will be bailed out, when needed, from a pool of $500 billion. The Act also sets aside $100 billion for hospitals and health providers.
One of the most significant parts of the Act are the direct cash payments to most Americans. These cash payments include $1,200 for adults and $500 for children. Over an adjusted gross income of 75,000 for single filers and 150,000 for couples filing jointly the payment phases out by $5 for every $100 in extra income. Single filers without children earning $198,000 will not receive any benefits.
The coronavirus pandemic has also generated global fear. Fear of the barely understood disease, fear of economic collapse, fear of government overreach, fear of any other already existing and future, real and imaginary threats and dangers. Such all encompassing and often unpredictable fears in many instances threaten relations between and among states. The more a government perceives the danger of losing power through elections or by being overthrown, the more willing they become to reach for emergency powers. Such developments can increase the danger of misinterpretation or even misunderstanding of foreign intentions, thus raising the possibility of different levels of confrontations between and among states. The ensuing mistrust and insecurity can ultimately result in war and global anarchy. Clearly, the world in general and humanity in particular need global leadership. The only country that can provide it is the United States of America. Consequently, as soon as this pandemic will subside domestically, we must ready ourselves to assist others. The quality as well as the quantity of this assistance will determine the future of America’s position in the world. Equally importantly, our international policies will also define the future direction of freedom across the globe. Upon the fulfilment of these responsibilities will depend the fate of America as well as the future of the entire world.
As the nation edges toward full-blown panic over the spread of the coronavirus, there are people and institutions upon whom we depend for leadership and information who should be ashamed of themselves for feeding it. Their response, loaded as it has been with worst-case scenarios and predictions of dire consequences, only compounds the fear many Americans are now experiencing.
So far, the virus has killed more than 6,500 worldwide, according to Monday’s report from the World Health Organization, and there have been about 165,000 confirmed cases. There are likely many more that are unconfirmed, as people can be ill and not show any symptoms. A large study in China found that more than 80 percent of confirmed cases had fairly mild symptoms, and under 5 percent of cases were critical.
That’s insufficient reason for rational people to panic. “Caution” should be the word of the moment. Thought leaders, politicians and medical professionals should be doing their best to prepare people for what might happen rather than pronouncing our doom—and attacking the president, as we saw in Sunday night’s debate between Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, neither of whom had anything positive to say about the steps taken by the administration thus far.
This encouraging of widespread fear only makes matters worse for public health and the economy.Ads by scrollerads.com
President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday that could free up $50 billion to help fight the virus. On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo praised his response to the outbreak in the state, as Governor Gavin Newsom did with regard to California.
Nevertheless, most of the folks who have never quite adjusted to the fact that Trump is the president of the United States are quick on the trigger with their criticism no matter what he does. They continue to overstate the lack of response by the U.S. government and blame the president for it.
That’s fair, at least to some degree. As Republican communications expert Rich Galen, my old mentor and former boss, used to remind me back when I was doing politics for a living rather than writing about it, the president gets to take a lot of credit he doesn’t deserve when good things happen, and he has to take a lot of the blame for things well beyond his control.
But remember: Trump didn’t cause the coronavirus and didn’t cause it to spread.
While the president is trying to act like the adult in the room, his opponents are going after him like vultures feeding on roadside carrion. It’s unseemly, and, more than that, the attacks on him undermine the public’s confidence in the national systems we’re depending on to keep us safe and help us manage our lives at a time when many of us can’t go to work, can’t go to our places of worship and can’t send our kids to school.
Recall, for example, Senator Chuck Schumer’s press conference last month in which he called the administration’s response to coronavirus totally inadequate. He also has been demanding expanded free coronavirus testing for anyone who wants it when he knows full well not enough test kits are available.
Likewise, new legislation negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who took the president’s request for $2.5 billion in emergency funding and blew it up into an $8.3 billion aid package, passed the House on Saturday. Democrats initially failed to ensure that abortion services weren’t eligible to receive funds, and they reportedly attempted to establish a permanent paid sick leave entitlement for all families, a longtime Democratic Party desire. What former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel once said about not letting a crisis go to waste is fully on display, and it’s shameful.
To be sure, caution is in order—along with hand washing, avoiding crowds, staying home if you’re sick, covering coughs with your arm and other sensible measures. As for panic, why don’t we ask a person who has had the coronavirus? A 37-year-old woman in Seattle was reportedly “surprised” to learn she’d had the virus, after thinking it was the flu and treating it with over-the-counter medications, rest and plenty of water. Her message: “Don’t panic.”
Or consider what Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His fellow Democrats and a more than few Republicans would do well to remember those words at this time, given that all they seem to have to offer now is fear.
For almost a year, politicians in Washington have talked about the need to fix the problem of surprise medical billing. But, per usual, they haven’t done anything about it.
It shouldn’t be this hard. To review: the bidding – surprise billing, as people call it – occurs when a person with health insurance gets a bill they weren’t expecting from an out-of-network provider whose services they didn’t know upfront they’d engaged.
You might think you could plan for such events and avoid them. But it’s getting harder, thanks to hedge funds and insurance companies that are blurring the lines, some say deliberately. Surprise billing is becoming a medical cash cow in an era where profit margins are being slashed by regulatory efforts to bend the cost curve downward.
The proliferation of undisclosed out-of-network services during in-network procedures has allowed insurers to get from under what their customers believe are their contractual obligations to pay. It’s making doctors and investors rich while giving the Medicare-for-All crowd ample ammunition to move their idea forward.
Medicare-for-All and its ugly cousins all share a few things in common. One of them is the potential that rationing will eventually be used to keep costs from rising. Another is that they all rely on government-imposed cost controls to make the healthcare system work. And that, in case it’s not clear, is exactly the wrong way to go.
The Senate HELP Committee bill is not a good solution. It is bi-partisan and reflects a deal reached in 2019 by the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees. It would essentially ban providers from sending surprise bills and require insurers to pay them, based on the “average price” for the services provided.
It would be better for Congress to do nothing to address the issue than enact a regime that uses cost controls or benchmarking – as the HELP Committee proposal has been labeled – to bring down the price of healthcare. It’s an artifice that changes nothing to the good except a consumer’s perception of what services cost. Controls retard innovation, suppress investment, and create incentives for high-quality medical care to move offshore.
Yet two committees of the U.S. House of Representatives are moving in that very direction.
Proposals recently introduced include one in the Ways and Means Committee that establishes a mediation process for insurers and out-of-network providers when they can’t agree on a payment rate for services provided. A second, coming from the Energy and Commerce Committee last year and adapted this year by the Education and Labor Committee, would decide payment rates using a blend of both arbitration and a benchmark.
Both proposals amount to price-fixing no matter what it’s called. Maryland Republican Andy Harris, a medical doctor by training, put it this way: “By design, placing such price controls on purely private transactions would reduce access to care, increase the power of the federal government, and result in negative, unintended consequences.”
It’s easy, when writing about healthcare reform, to invoke the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors requiring them to put the interests of patients first. And it should be kept in mind when addressing the issue of surprise billing because it is about people and the care they receive, not just the bottom line.
Health insurers helped write the last round of reforms. They made money – and made sure there were bailouts built into the new system in case they didn’t. Consumers ended up with fewer choices, higher premiums, even higher deductibles, and plans that changed year after year. It wasn’t what they wanted. Some would say the cure ended up being worse than the sickness.
Now the big insurers are spending to position themselves to influence the pathway forward dealing with the surprise billing problem. They’re pursuing new laws and regulations to insulate them from their responsibilities to their customers, to protect them from liability, and to avoid paying for services using a variety of what can best be called coverage loopholes. “Price controls” and “government rate-setting” are a large part of what helped wreck the U.S. healthcare system in the first place.
Insurers need to own their responsibilities to their customers and level the playing field on their own.
Column: The only predictable fallout of coronavirus? Partisanship.
The pundits are having difficulty settling on a historical analogy for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Will the spread of the disease be President Trump’s Katrina or his financial crisis? Will it be similar to the H1N1 avian flu pandemic in 2009 or will it be politicized like the Ebola outbreak in 2014?
Comparisons are tough. After all, the situation is unprecedented. The political consequences of COVID-19 are difficult to predict because of the interplay between a public health emergency and a fractured public narrative. Coronavirus is the first postmodern pandemic.
It has the makings of a phenomenon not seen in a century. The Spanish Flu of 1918 infected an estimated one-third of the global population. It had a case fatality rate greater than 2.5 percent—slightly higher than the rate for coronavirus observed in China so far. More than 600,000 people died in the United States of “La Grippe.” No one wants to see these numbers repeated.
Perhaps they won’t be. The malpractice of the Chinese Communists may be responsible for the high fatality rate there. The rate outside its borders, according to the World Health Organization, is lower. And America inhabits a different public health universe than a century ago. Flu vaccines and therapeutics did not exist. Hospitals, the sciences of virology and epidemiology, and medical technology were primitive. Authorities relied on quarantines and appeals for good hygiene. Results were mixed. And disappointing.
This is different from the Spanish Flu. Science, medicine, and public health have improved immeasurably. But that is not the only difference. COVID-19 is novel. No one saw it before last December. No one is sure where it came from. And it has spread quickly. Despite record advances in gene sequencing and drug testing, it will be more than a year before a vaccine can be mass produced.
The global economy is far more integrated than in the past. And a worldwide broadcast, digital, and social media exist that would have been fanciful to President Wilson. This system distributes misinformation, incentivizes hysteria and partisanship, and expects immaculate performance from the government while ignoring, dismissing, and excusing its own failures. Dealing with “community spread” is hard enough. Try doing it while watching Don Lemon.
We were better off when the media focused on impeachment. Now that it is interested in coronavirus, a familiar pattern will set in. Data will be publicized without the slightest sense of proportion. The most outrageous scenarios will receive the most attention. Speculation will be paraded as fact. And every conceivable negative outcome, from infections to deaths to plunging stock values, from reasonable and warranted travel bans to unanticipated diplomatic and economic fallout, will be related back to the president in an effort to damage his reelection.
Financial journalists who see bears around every corner now point to coronavirus as the irrepressible agent of recession. A columnist for the New York Times says, “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus.” CNN slams the president’s coronavirus task force for its “lack of diversity.” The Washington Post transcribes Democratic Party talking points when it suggests Vice President Mike Pence is incapable of overseeing the government’s efforts because he opposes needle-sharing programs. Among the reasons Trump is said to have weakened public health? He defunded Planned Parenthood.
The Democrats criticize Trump for budget cuts that never happened. Chuck Schumer plots a campaign to bash the president for a paltry supplemental request, only to have Trump say Congress can appropriate whatever it wants. Elizabeth Warren introduces a bill to “transfer all funding for @realDonaldTrump’s racist border wall” to coronavirus defense. Has she seen her doctor lately?
This isn’t a serious response. It’s a tantrum. There are plenty of additional things the Trump administration could do to prepare for an outbreak. My American Enterprise Institute colleague, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., has several recommendations, including allowing for more testing. What the media and Democrats offer instead are dispatches from Resistance Land—that magical place where the border is open, Medicare is for all, the New Deal is Green, and coronavirus isn’t the problem, Donald Trump is.
Knowledge of the physical universe has grown exponentially since 1918. So have the means by which we are able to express discontent, fear, blame, and unreason. Which is why I do have one prediction about the weeks ahead: Our politics will remain nasty, polarized, overheated, and dispiriting. Even as Mother Nature reminds us who’s really in charge.
Dear Majority Leader McConnell:
Many Americans share concern for the cost of medicine, particularly our country’s seniorcitizens. And President Trump has rightly called out “foreign freeloaders” whose government monopoly health systems drastically underpay for (American-developed) pharmaceuticals. However, most of the proposals go about addressing this matter not only in the wrong way, but in highly destructive ways.
Conservatives for Property Rights (CPR) is a coalition of organizations representing millions of Americans. CPR emphasizes the central importance of private property in all its forms — physical, personal, and intellectual. The right to private property ranks among the unalienable rights the Founders referenced in the Declaration of Independence, and patents and copyrights are the only rights for which the U.S. Constitution itself provides. As you appreciate, we should not harm our patent-centric research and development sectors by gutting their property rights.
While Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s H.R. 3 is the most radical and destructive of the “drug pricing” legislation, CPR wants to make perfectly clear that the Senate Finance Committee’s Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act is also very harmful and destructive. In no way is S.2543 any sort of “compromise” or “middle-ground” alternative. This bill passed committee by a majority of liberal Democratic votes; fewer than half the majority Senators voted for it. Notably, S. 2543 does zero to remedy “foreign freeloading.” CPR regards S. 2543 as unacceptable and urges all Senators to oppose this bill.
Of this measure’s provisions harmful to America’s leadership in pharmaceutical innovation (and thus harmful to American patients), perhaps most egregious is the inflationary penalty price control mechanism. This price control would impose a confiscatory excise tax on earnings when a Medicare medication in Parts B or D exceeds the inflation rate. Such an unpredictable, disruptive government price control would wreak havoc in drug R&D, injecting much uncertainty into and causing significant loss of R&D funding from the pharmaceutical innovation process.
Conservatives for Property Rights strongly opposes the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Actand urges Senators to reject this counterproductive legislation.
James Edwards, Executive Director, Conservatives for Property Rights
Seton Motley, President, Less Government
George Landrith, President, Frontiers of Freedom
Dick Patten, President, Campaign for Liberty
Jenny Beth Martin, Honorary Chairman, Tea Party Patriots Action
Jim Martin, Founder/Chairman, 60 Plus Association
Kevin L. Kearns, President, U.S. Business & Industry Council
C. Person Noell III, President, Tradition, Family, Property, Inc.
Tom DeWeese, President, American Policy Center
Tim Andrews, Executive Director, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Ed Martin, President, Phyllis Schlafly Eagles
Matthew Kandrach, President, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy
Saulius “Saul” Anuzis, President, 60 Plus Association
America’s health care system is still a mess. The Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, has sparked continued increases in premiums and deductibles while failing to bend the health care cost curve down as promised.
That’s just one of the assurances ACA supporters made about the new law it failed to keep. Obama was badly misinformed when he promised people could keep the coverage they had, if they liked it, once the ACA became law. Some suggest he knew at the time this was a lie, but he’s not saying, one way or another.
Yes, there are more people insured than ever before, but many of those people still can’t afford to use that insurance because the deductibles are so high. Plans in the individual markets are canceled from one year to the next, forcing people to re-enroll in something similar or find new insurance altogether.
That’s not the way it was supposed to be. Efforts at repeal collapsed thanks to the Senate Democrats’ procedural instance any plan to replace it be adopted with 60 votes or more. So much for what the people want.
The idea getting the most attention, the Medicare-for-All proposal first put forward by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and embraced by other Democrats running for the party’s presidential nomination, is a non-starter. The non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates the Sanders’ plan “has a gross cost of $30.6 trillion and, incorporating offsets, would add $13.4 trillion to deficits over ten years under our central estimate.” The plans floated by former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and others also don’t come close to paying for themselves.
Obamacare was supposed to increase transparency for consumers, allowing them to make better decisions about the care they received and what it would cost. That hasn’t happened either, and though President Donald Trump is pushing for action from Congress to pass laws putting price tags on all kinds of care, nothing spectacular has happened in that area either – largely because the health insurance companies are still driving the train.
They helped write the ACA and are now employing armies of lobbyists to make sure they don’t go under because of it. They’re pursuing new laws and regulations to insulate them from their responsibilities to their customers, to protect them from liability, and to avoid paying for services using a variety of what can best be called coverage loopholes.
The biggest of these has come to be known as “surprise billing,” an issue the president has taken to heart. No one likes to get a bill they didn’t expect, especially when they thought they were covered for the expense. Yet let an in-network doctor perform a procedure at an in-network hospital using an out-of-network anesthesiologist and send tissue out for analysis to a pathology lab at a nearby, affiliated and out-of-network hospital, and that’s precisely what happens.
In that case, as I recently experienced for myself, the insurance suddenly doesn’t count because you went out-of-network. That you didn’t know it and that you asked ahead of time that everything to be done “in-network” doesn’t matter so you must pay for the out-of-network services performed. It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s legal.
Congress, led by Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, has crafted a bill to change that. The problem with the Alexander approach is that it relies on price controls. The track record of price controls creating adverse consequences is long and storied.
The bipartisan Alexander bill requires insurers to pay the surprise bills when they arise based on the average price for the services provided. This is called “benchmarking” and it’s a bad idea because it empowers the government to make further intrusions into the health care marketplace and gets the country all that much closer to a Medicare-for-All style system.
“Price controls” and “government rate-setting” are a large part of what helped wreck the U.S. health care system in the first place. Insurers need to own their responsibilities to their customers and level the playing field on their own.
Raising concern “about the direction the health care policy debate is moving” – particularly among conservative lawmakers – the National Center for Public Policy Research has joined with more than 70 other conservative and free-market organizations to warn Congress about the dangers of price fixing.
In trying to remedy the issue of surprise medical bills for out-of-network emergency treatment, and insurers balking at covering all of such costs, some typically conservative politicians are favoring proposals to essentially enact price controls on these health care services. This would prohibit doctors and hospitals from setting their own rates and potentially make them operate at a loss.
Senator Rand Paul has explained that this could compromise the quality of American health care by driving people out of the medical field. “If you fix the price that ER doctors work at,” he said, “you will get a shortage.” He suggested that what has happened to the economy in Venezuela could happen in the United States as a result of such changes to the marketplace.
In a letter to conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the National Center and others note:
[W]hat is troubling is how often otherwise right-of-center policymakers are resorting to one of the key pillars of the Medicare for All playbook – government imposed price controls. Whether it is called price fixing, rate setting, subsidy capping or inflation capping, government price controls have wormed their way into the healthcare reform plans of too many of our friends in Washington.
The National Center is joined on the letter by organizations including Americans for Tax Reform, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Frontiers of Freedom, the Discovery Institute, the Institute for Policy Innovation and Eagle Forum.
The coalition letter concludes:
This was a bad idea a half century ago with gasoline line rationing, and it’s a bad idea today in health care. Something can only be affordable if it’s available to buy in the first place.
To read the entire letter and see all of its signers, click here.
Hysteria over 'vaping-related lung illness' puts pressure on politicians, but vaping is safer than smoking
There are those who say vaping is a public health menace, that it’s designed to appeal to young people as a gateway to tobacco with no redeeming social values whatsoever. Others who say it’s a public health miracle that’s made it possible for tens of thousands of people addicted to cigarettes to quit and live healthier lives.
It’s not clear who’s right but the evidence thus far hews toward the idea that vaping, from the standpoint of public health, is largely beneficial. There have been a few deaths among young people but, as we’re now finding out, those can be attributed to carelessness, black market formulas based in oil rather than water, and the effort to get a quick high by employing a THC-like additive. They did not result, as the proponents of regulation and abolition led us at first to believe, because all vaping technologies are medically and scientifically unsound.
Vaping is 95 percent safer than smoking, according to some estimates. Unlike inhaling cigarette smoke, vaping is not carcinogenetic and not, as some have claimed, a proven gateway to teen smoking. Yet it’s under attack as never before.
The hysteria over what’s been called “vaping-related lung illness” has generated enormous pressure on politicians from President Donald Trump on down to do something. That’s understandable but not necessarily right. The attack on the science showing that vaping generally leads to reductions in cigarette smoking and that favored vaping is very much a part of helping people quit is leading to a situation where even more people may die.
For more than a few years, the nascent vaping industry has tried to work with the government to set rules everyone can live with. They’re on board with an under-21 vaping ban, and the biggest player in the marketplace, Juul, has voluntarily agreed to withdraw its few flavored formulas from the U.S. market. No more mint, no more crème, no more cucumber, no more fruit and no more mango — even though studies have shown cigarette smokers find it easier to refrain from smoking if the vaping options available to them are flavored.
An individual earning near the national median at $50,000 a year would pay more than $17,450 more per year in taxes to fund Democrats’ Medicare for All proposal. That’s not even half of it.
Democratic candidates for president continue to evade questions on how they will pay for their massive, $32 trillion single-payer health care scheme. But on Monday, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) released a 10-page paperproviding a preliminary analysis of possible ways to fund the left’s socialized medicine experiment.
Worth noting about the organization that published this document: It maintains a decidedly centrist platform. While perhaps not liberal in its views, it also does not embrace conservative policies. For instance, its president, Maya MacGuineas, recently wrote a blog post opposing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, stating that the bill’s “shortcomings outweigh the benefits,” because it will increase federal deficits and debt.
That centrist position makes CRFB’s analysis of single payer all the more devastating, because one cannot write it off as coming from a right-wing group. And its analysis is devastating, carrying it three main messages, as follows.
Consider some of the options to pay for single payer CRFB examines, along with how they might affect average families.
A 32 percent payroll tax increase. No, that’s not a typo. Right now, employers and employees pay a combined 15.3 percent payroll tax to fund Social Security and Medicare. (While employers technically pay half of this 15.3 percent, most economists conclude the entire amount ultimately comes out of workers’ paychecks, in the form of lower wages.) This change would more than triple current payroll tax rates.
Real-Life Cost: An individual earning $50,000 in wages would pay $8,000 more per year ($50,000 times 16 percent), and so would that individual’s employer.
A 25 percent income surtax. This change would apply to all income above the standard deduction, currently $12,200 for individuals and $24,400 for families.
Real-Life Cost: An individual with $50,000 in income would pay $9,450 in higher taxes ($50,000 minus $12,200, times 25 percent).
A 42 percent Value Added Tax (VAT). This change would enact on the federal level the type of sales/consumption tax that many European countries use to support their social programs. Some proposals have called for rebates to some or all households, to reflect the fact that sales taxes raise the cost of living, particularly for poorer families. However, using some of the proceeds of the VAT to provide rebates would likely require an even higher tax rate than the 42 percent CRFB estimates in its report.
Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “the first-order effect of this VAT would be to increase the prices of most goods and services by 42 percent.”
Mandatory Public Premiums. This proposal would require all Americans to pay a tax in the form of a “premium” to finance single payer. As it stands now, Americans with employer-sponsored insurance pay an average of $6,015 in premiums for family coverage. (Employers pay an additional $14,561 in premium contributions; most economists argue these funds ultimately come from employees, in the form of lower wages—but workers do not explicitly pay these funds out-of-pocket.)
Real-Life Cost: According to CRFB, “premiums would need to average about $7,500 per capita or $20,000 per household” to fund single payer. Exempting individuals currently on federal health programs (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid) would prevent seniors and the poor from getting hit with these costs, but “would increase the premiums [for everyone else] by over 60 percent to more than $12,000 per individual.”
Reduce non-health federal spending by 80 percent. After re-purposing existing federal health spending (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid), paying for single payer would require reducing everything else from the federal budget—defense, transportation, education, and more—by 80 percent.
Real-Life Cost: “An 80 percent cut to Social Security would mean reducing the average new benefit from about $18,000 per year to $3,600 per year.”
The report includes other options, including an increase in federal debt to 205 percent of gross domestic product—nearly double its historic record—and a more-than-doubling of individual and corporate income tax rates. The impact of the last is obvious: Take what you paid to the IRS on April 15, or in your regular paycheck, and double it.
In theory, lawmakers could use a combination of these approaches to fund a single-payer health care system, which might blunt their impact somewhat. But the massive amounts of revenue needed gives one the sense that doing so would amount to little more than rearranging deck chairs on a sinking fiscal ship.
CRFB reinforced their prior work indicating that taxes on “the rich” could at best fund about one-third of the cost of single payer. Their proposals include $2 trillion in revenue from raising tax rates on the affluent, another $2 trillion from phasing out tax incentives for the wealthy, another $2 trillion from doubling corporate income taxes, $3 trillion from wealth taxes, and $1 trillion from taxes on financial transactions and institutions.
Several of the proposals CRFB analyzed would raise tax rates on the wealthiest households above 60 percent. At these rates, economists suggest that individuals would reduce their income and cut back on work, because they do not see the point in generating additional income if government will take 70 (or 80, or 90) cents on every additional dollar earned. While taxing “the rich” might sound publicly appealing, at a certain point it becomes a self-defeating proposition—and several proposals CRFB vetted would meet, or exceed, that point.
The report notes that “most of the [funding] options we present would shrink the economy compared to the current system.” For instance, CRFB quantifies the impact of funding single payer via a payroll tax increase as “the equivalent of a $3,200 reduction in per-person income and would result in a 6.5 percent reduction in hours worked—a 9 million person reduction in full-time equivalent workers in 2030.”
By contrast, deficit financing a single-payer system would minimize its drag on jobs, but “be far more damaging to the economy.” The increase in federal debt “would shrink the size of the economy by roughly 5 percent in 2030—the equivalent of a $4,500 reduction in per person income—and far more in the following years.”
Moreover, these estimates assume a great amount of interest by foreign buyers in continuing to purchase American debt. If the U.S. Treasury cannot find buyers for its bonds, a potential debt crisis could cause the economic damage from single payer to skyrocket.
To say single payer would cause widespread economic disruption would put it mildly. Hopefully, the CRFB report, and others like it, will inspire the American people to reject the progressive left’s march towards socialism.
One of the problems in health care today is that it turns Oscar Wilde’s quip on its head: In the United States, everyone knows the value of health care, but nobody knows the price of anything (because most spending is covered by insurance or by federal programs such as Medicare).
Pricing information is crucial in any system, because when people know what price they’re paying for a good or service, they can make informed decisions. Also, prices tend to come down over time as people demand better service at lower prices.
However, unlike Walmart or Amazon.com, the federal government isn’t especially good at negotiating lower prices. And now, crony health care interests are fighting to eliminate one of Medicare’s few pricing successes.
The issue involves prescription medicines. Since Medicare Part D was put into place to cover prescription drugs, generic and biosimilar medicines have usually been added to the program as soon as the FDA approved them. That’s given seniors access to safe, effective drugs at a much lower cost. In 2018, for example, generic drugs saved consumers almost $300 billion, with $90 billion of that going to Medicare recipients.
Sadly, though, they could have saved much more. In 2016, the Obama administration changed Medicare policy so that many generics would be priced in the same band as name brand drugs. That’s increased prices for seniors by more than $6 billion.
A good chunk of that money flowed to Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), which negotiate to get the generic meds priced in a higher band, then pocket “rebates” (kickbacks) from the big drug companies that make name brand drugs. Consumers, meanwhile, miss out on potential savings.
Under the Trump administration, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is finally taking steps to roll back the price increases. Next year, it wants to stop Medicare Part D plans from moving generic drugs into branded drug tiers. Instead, it plans to create a new tier reserved just for generics and biosimilars.
Many lawmakers support this sensible policy. “I am pleased to find that CMS is considering an ‘alternative’ policy,” Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “I applaud CMS for considering these cost-effective policies and urge the Agency to make them final for CY2020.”
Cassidy is a doctor and a leader in the fight for a more conservative approach to health care. He also joined fellow Republican Senators Steve Daines and James Lankford and Democrats Sherrod Brown and Robert Menendez in sponsoring an amendment to The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 that would have “ensured lower-cost generic drugs are placed on generic tiers and higher-cost brands stay on brand tiers.” They dropped that amendment for internal reasons, because Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley told them he’ll make certain the language makes it into the final bill.
Many other lawmakers are also pushing for the reform. “We encourage CMS to move forward with this policy effective CY2020 to lower out-of-pocket costs for millions of Americans, ensuring that they receive the full value of generic and biosimilar competition,” a bipartisan group of House lawmakers wrote to Azar. “Price competition is vital in the Part D program and beneficiaries deserve a choice at the pharmacy counter when possible.”
Seniors can thank these lawmakers, and should keep a sharp eye on Sen. Grassley. He has a chance to move forward in a bipartisan fashion with a plan that would save Medicare recipients money. That ought to be an easy sell in these divided times.
Conservatives are wary about expanding Medicare, of course. But we’re eager to use pricing power to improve the state of American health care. Let’s not allow PBMs to block this important step toward systemic reform.
Atop the list of what America’s senior adults want are the preservation of their independence and a secure retirement. Admirably they don’t want to end up being a burden anyone, not their spouse, not their children, and not the rest of us. The way the system is rigged, however, almost guarantees they will
Medicare-for-All, which most of the Democrats running for president have endorsed, will only lead to increased dependency. It’s a typical one-size-fits-all proposal that sounds good from the stump and may look good on paper. The numbers though, just don’t work.
The way forward is to expand choice and to allow seniors to take advantage of competition in the health care marketplace to bring prices down. Some already have supplemental insurance that helps fill the financial gap between what they need and what Medicare will pay for but it’s not enough. Some people need more than one walker in order to stay in their homes.
This is where creativity is needed. The green-eye shade types who approve Medicare expenditures spend lots of time thinking about what things cost. Considering how many taxpayer dollars are involved in later-in-life health care, that’s not such a bad thing but it doesn’t always take into consideration what people need.
That forces seniors to make hard choices that can threaten their independence. They need to have more options as they would under a proposal by Dr. Ami Bera, D-Calif., and Jason Smith, R-Mo., that would let them use pre-tax dollars stored up in health savings accounts to fill the gaps between items covered under Medicare and what they are expected to pay for out of pocket.
“Having a Health Savings Account is a powerful resource that reimburses everything from doctor and dentist visits to prescription drugs, first aid supplies, and eyeglasses. Health Savings Accounts also incentivize saving for health-care expenses by providing critical tax benefits, just as we do for saving for retirement or college,” says Kevin McKechnie, the executive director of the American Bankers Association’s Health Savings Accounts Council.
Money put away in an HSA can stay there for decades. Under current law, there’s no “Use it or lose it” provision. That means younger workers can start saving for retirement health care upon entering the workforce and, through the magic of compound interest, build up a nest egg that’s there for them anytime they need it.
That means, if they’re lucky enough to remain relatively healthy and can be disciplined financially, it can be there for them in their retirement years which, it has suddenly become clear to me, come around a lot faster than it seems they will when you’re just starting out.
The tax benefits associated with HSA’s, McKechnie wrote in a recent op-ed, “have become even more important as deductibles and other health-care costs continue to skyrocket.” Struggling families, especially those that include senior adults facing the challenges associated with aging, are finding it harder and harder to plan for they can’t see coming. Expanding the range of services that can be paid for out of health savings accounts give them an additional hedge against the unexpected.
A recent Luntz Global poll found 46 percent support for the Bera-Smith plan and the idea of using HSA funds to fill the Medigap. Expanding the list of approved items upon which HSA dollars can be spent without tax penalties is low hanging fruit as far as health care reform goes. That’s probably why the idea has bipartisan support.
The challenges presented by an aging America in which people living longer and healthier must deal with diseases that can lead more quickly to economic ruin should give us all pause. New thinking is needed, not just where treatments are concerned but in how we make it possible for people to pay for it. We could as a country decide to turn the whole business over to the government but that inevitable means care will be rationed, fewer options will be available, and decisions regarding life and death matters will almost inevitably be taken out of our hands by the bureaucracy.
No one wants to live like that, and no one wants a loved one to die like that. The Bera-Smith Health Savings for Seniors Act will cover the gaps and help bring the cost of health care under control. At least 82 percent of those who answered the Luntz Global survey think it will. It’s time to give it a chance.
The best way to ensure better medical care for all is to reject Medicare for All.
Health care ranked as most important issue, save for “the ability to beat Donald Trump,” for Democratic voters in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll taken before and after last week’s presidential debate.
The debate revealed fissures among the party’s presidential aspirants on health care.
Bernie Sanders pronounced his desire that “every American has health care as a human right and not a privilege.” But under the senator’s “Medicare for All” scheme, private health insurance becomes illegal.
Would any American regard it as in keeping with the First Amendment if the government limited all 330 million of us to one church or one newspaper? The senator’s conception of rights, several opponents seemed to say, is wrong.
“While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill,” Amy Klobuchar quipped. She objected to Medicare for All forcing about half of Americans off their existing private insurance. “I don’t think that’s a bold idea,” the Minnesotan noted. “I think that’s a bad idea.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he supported “Medicare for all who want it.” He objected to the one-size-fits-all quality of Sanders’ plan. “I trust the American people to make the right choice for them,” he told Sanders. “Why don’t you?”
Joe Biden balked at the price, estimated to eclipse what the federal government currently takes in in revenues. The former vice president pointed out, “Nobody’s yet said how much it’s going to cost the taxpayer.”
Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who supports his plan, pushed back. Vermont’s junior senator railed against “the drug companies and the insurance companies.” Warren explained, “I’ve never met a person who likes their insurance company.”
Given that insurance companies issue bills to consumers, this necessarily makes them unpopular. But the majority of costs come from hospitals (33 percent) and physician and clinical services (20 percent), according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). We want to kill the messenger. Those primarily responsible for the message — $25 for two aspirin pills, $120 for a cloth sling, $57,000 for a knee replacement — somehow not only escape our wrath but also win our admiration.
Hospitals gouging patients occurs most glaringly in places where hospitals operate as a monopoly and in emergency situations. The common denominator in both circumstances involves the inability to compare and shop.
In a paper published earlier this year in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, academics at Yale, Penn, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon note hospital price increases for the privately insured when competition decreases. “Prices at monopoly hospitals are 12% higher than those in markets with four or more rivals,” their abstract reads.
Monopoly hospitals also have contracts that load more risk on insurers (e.g., they have more cases with prices set as a share of their charges). In concentrated insurer markets the opposite occurs — hospitals have lower prices and bear more financial risk. Examining the 366 mergers and acquisitions that occurred between 2007 and 2011, we find that prices increased by over 6% when the merging hospitals were geographically close (e.g., 5 miles or less apart), but not when the hospitals were geographically distant (e.g., over 25 miles apart).
In the emergency room, when circumstances necessarily kill the ability to shop, spending per patient more than doubled from 2008 to 2017, according to research compiled by Kevin Kennedy and John Hargraves for the Health Care Cost Institute.
Reducing health-care costs requires more competition, not a monopoly. Change soon comes, and not necessarily legislative change of the Medicare for All variety. Data stored in the cloud and available via an app may make medical costs and outcomes transparent, which should reduce cost. Medicare for All will retard this process since the whole health-care industry will lobby against the smartphone apps, and the consolidation of the entire industry necessarily leads to less competition.
Beyond transparency enabling health-care consumers to shop, the industry appears ripe for new players. Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway, for example, entered the field last year. If they do not ultimately seek to dethrone the status quo, why did UnitedHealth’s Optum sue to stop a former employee from working at the trio’s health-care startup? A $3.6 trillion industry remains too big a cash cow for the giants of tech and finance to resist a milking.
Competition is coming. Price transparency is coming. If Medicare for All is coming, then neither is coming.